Coronavirus FAQ

Due to the volume of enquiries that we are receiving from our clients about coronavirus (Covid-19), we have produced an FAQ guide. It’s important that you, as business owners, keep up to date daily and follow advice from the following organisations where they apply to your business/industry, as these take precedence over the FAQ responses in this document:

Please check the rules around reclaiming the social welfare payments you make on the government’s behalf if you pay in excess of those amounts.

The information on this page was last updated on Friday 20th March.

 

General advice

As a general rule, employers should do the following:

  • Keep communication flowing. This is an ever-changing situation so it’s important to keep talking about the actions you are taking. Have an open-door policy for any concerns that employees may have.
  • Review and update all employee contact numbers and emergency contact details.
  • Know where your staff are travelling to and returning from. This applies to both business and holiday travel.
  • Remain current with government advice regarding self-isolation/quarantine requirements from each country. See above websites.
  • Advise employees experiencing symptoms, after possible contact, to remain at home and call 999 for advice in the first instance (rather than immediately go to their GP or hospital).
  • Managers should be informed of how to spot symptoms of coronavirus, see above links.
  • Have a clear process to follow if someone is diagnosed with coronavirus.
  • Ensure that you provide clean places for people to wash their hands with hot water and soap, and encourage your staff to do this regularly.
  • Think about protective resources. For example hand sanitisers/gel and tissues should all be made available. Non-alcoholic hand sanitiser might be preferable to some employees on religious or belief grounds, so it might be advisable to offer both. Current guidance is that face masks are ineffective and are not recommended as a preventative measure.
  • Increase general cleaning routines for handrails, door handles etc.
  • Think about planned business travel and question whether it is essential.
  • Have a home working policy.
  • Have a business continuity plan.
  • Keep employees thinking pragmatically. Those who have laptops should take them home each night so they can continue to work if they are unable to come in.

 

All sectors related FAQ:

Q. With regard to staff travelling for their annual holiday – What do we do?

  • The employee needs to decide whether they intend to continue with the travel. If an employee travels to another country which requires quarantine upon return (i.e. they knowingly travel aware that quarantine will be required on their return, then inform them that the period of quarantine would be unpaid absence.)
  • If an employee is required to be quarantined on their return on medical advice and are unable to attend work, then it is good practice to pay in line with your company sick pay policy. (otherwise they could attend work and risk infecting everyone, and closing your business down for a while).
  • If they choose to self-isolate but there are no guidelines or medical advice given to suggest that they should do so, then this is deemed as unpaid, unauthorised absence. It could be used for disciplinary purposes.

Q. A member of staff is travelling to an area that has been confirmed by the government as a risk to travel, and they must be quarantined for 14 days on return. Do we have to pay them for this absence?

No. There is no statutory obligation to pay for time off due to an employee being quarantined or required to self-isolate.

Q. A member of staff is travelling to an area that is a risk, but the government does not require them to be in quarantine unless they show symptoms. Our company has a policy saying that external visitors can’t attend site if they have travelled to one of those countries within the last 14 days. Can we have the same policy for employees?

Yes, but you must pay employees for the time off, as you are technically suspending them on health and safety grounds.

Q. Our employees travel a lot for business reasons to countries worldwide. Can we insist that they still travel?

If there is a travel restriction or guidance to not visit particular countries unless it is essential, then you would be putting the health and safety of your employees at risk if you insisted that they travel to that country. This may be deemed unreasonable behaviour on the part of the employer. We would not advise that you insist that they travel to such countries.

If there is no travel restriction and the country that they are visiting has no warnings, then you can insist that the employee travels as per the normal role. If they refused to do so, then you could take disciplinary action.

Q. There is a lot of speculation in the media that airports themselves are a place to catch coronavirus. So our employees don’t want to travel at all, even though the destinations are safe. What do we do?

It is a good idea to restrict all but essential travel, but if the destination is a ‘safe’ one, then you can insist that they travel. You could offer to pay for items that would act as a protection against coronavirus such as antibacterial hand gel, a supply of disposable gloves to wear in the airport and on the plane etc. to make the employee feel more comfortable with travelling. And remind the employee that the advice given is to regularly wash hands, use tissues and immediately put them in the bin etc.

Q. Our employees are starting to talk about refusing to come to the office because their colleagues may infect them. They would rather work from home or have the time off until coronavirus passes. What do we do?

If an employee is not sick and has not been instructed to self-isolate or be quarantined, and they refuse to attend work, then this would be unauthorised absence and unpaid. They could be disciplined.

Our advice is to take a pragmatic approach. As situations like these happen so rarely, don’t be concerned about setting a precedent. If it’s possible for employees to work from home and they are feeling nervous, why not just let them work at home? If this isn’t possible (we understand that a lot of businesses do not have the technology to fulfil this), then reassure employees by having plenty of antibacterial hand-gel and soap available. Remind employees about hygiene standards in the office.

This is an ever-changing situation. So keep talking with your employees and keep an eye on the news and on guidance from the professional bodies that relate to your industry, particularly in cases concerning travel and the vulnerable.

Q. What do we do when an employee has booked time off for holiday, but their holiday is cancelled because of a situation outside of their control (e.g. flight cancellations or the destination country status means they are advised not to travel there)? Can the employee cancel their annual leave and take it again at another time?

This is at your discretion as an employer. It might be straight forward for you to allow this with minimal business disruption. But you have no obligation to allow the cancellation. However, where possible we are sure most businesses will try to support employees in this situation.

Q. What do we do if an employee has returned from their holiday from a high-risk country, but there is no mandatory quarantine and no advice to self-isolate; they want to return to work, but their colleagues do not want them to come in?

  • If their colleagues refuse to attend work, this would be deemed unauthorised absence and potentially disciplinary action could be taken in line with your absence policy.
  • If an employee was pregnant or was in ill health, then you may try to allow them to work from home or in a restricted area to alleviate concerns.
  • If you ask the returning employee to refrain from work, then they are entitled to full pay.
  • You could suggest that they work from home if that’s easy for them to do.
  • You should provide plenty of antibacterial hand-gel, washing facilities and tissues to keep hygiene to a high standard in the workplace.


Q. What if an employee comes into work and I am concerned they have coronavirus?

Follow official guidance, see links above to the IPH and other official websites.

Q. An employee has a current health problem, like diabetes, and says they do not wish to come to work with someone who has returned from an at-risk country but is not required to self-isolate. What do we do?

Ask them to contact their health professional, GP for advice and follow that.

School FAQ

Q. What action should we take now that schools and colleges have closed and parents can’t attend work?

The usual rules apply for force majeur, so parents should arrange appropriate childcare as quickly as possible. But, in the meantime, employers should allow unpaid time off for the parents.

If parents can work from home, this will help if their children are old enough to not require constant attention during working hours.

Care home FAQ

Q. Would it be fair for us to notify all visitors to the home who have travelled abroad or been in contact with someone who has travelled in the past 14 days to refrain from visiting (as per the quarantine guidelines for the affected countries)?

Our rationale for this is that aeroplanes are usually where people pick up infections, and you cannot be sure if co-travellers are on connecting flights and have visited an affected area. Many care homes are now restricting visits.

Q. If coronavirus enters the care home, do we keep the staff on duty at the time in the home and quarantine them? What about the rest of the staff?

  • We advise that you contact HSE for specific advice.
  • For those employees who are not essential, then you should send them home to self-isolate. If they can drive or walk, that’s fine. If they would ordinarily rely on public transport then you could arrange for a taxi to take that person home or pay mileage expenses to other non-essential staff who are also travelling away from the care home to transport those individuals home.
  • From an HR perspective, we would advise that if staff need to remain in the home, they are paid as they normally would be, as they would be working usual shifts. Just because they are quarantined in the home, doesn’t mean that they are working 24 hours a day. They should only work their usual shifts, and any other time is their time off. It is not your fault that they cannot leave the home if these are medical stipulations that you have no control over. They should not be paid for 24-hours-a-day for 14 days.
  • If staff can come into work, but they are not allowed to enter the home, then you should pay them for their time off.

Q. Where do the staff sleep when they have to be quarantined in the care home?

This is an unusual situation which you would have to do the best that you can under the circumstances. Spending reasonable amounts on air beds and sleeping bags might be sensible if this situation arises. Likewise, providing food and drinks for the period would be deemed reasonable. Allowing family members to bring items from home for the employees would also be required.

Pay guidance

The following points may be included in the above responses. But for ease, this section hopes to answer all queries related to pay.

As a small business you always have discretion to pay above the minimum we are setting out here.

Please bear in mind the possible impact of unpaid leave meaning staff choose not to follow their obligations on quarantine, and therefore are more likely to spread coronavirus to others in your workforce.

Do I have to pay them if….?

  • They choose to self-isolate?
    No. This would be deemed unpaid unauthorised absence.
  • They are instructed by a medical professional to self-isolate.
    No. There is no statutory obligation to pay someone in quarantine or self-isolation. This is unpaid authorised absence, however good practice is to pay them.
  • They are in quarantine?
    No. There is no statutory obligation to pay someone in quarantine or self-isolation. This is unpaid authorised absence, however if they become infected then normal sick pay will apply.
  • They are in lockdown in a hotel in another country?
    No. This would be deemed unpaid authorised absence.
  • They have no symptoms but they’ve just come back from an at-risk country and I don’t want them to come to work?
    Yes. If they can work from home then this should be arranged. But if not, this would be deemed suspension on health and safety grounds, so you should pay them in full.
  • They have cold/flu symptoms and should be in quarantine, but they feel fit to work and I want them to work?
    Regardless of whether they feel fit to work, they must follow government/medical advice. If this means that they must self-isolate, then there is no requirement to pay. If they turn up for work you can send them home on health and safety grounds and pay them in full.
  • They have cold/flu symptoms, are not in quarantine and I don’t want them to work?
    If they are saying they are fit to work despite their symptoms, and you don’t want them to attend work, then this would be deemed suspension on health and safety grounds so you would pay them in full.

The above guidance is consistent with that released in the media, so should not be a surprise to your employees. Having said that, we are aware that employers will not want their employees to have any financial difficulties.

So we would encourage you to find ways of staff being able to work to enable them to receive full pay. For example, working from home. Or working on paper-based projects, if you don’t have the technical facility to allow them to work from home on computer equipment.

Regardless of your statutory obligations as an employer, it is unsettling that employees might suffer financially when self-isolating to protect their colleagues.

If you have any other questions in relation to your employees, or any other HR issue, please contact us for advice.

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